Independent travel in Israel is booming. Countless budget travellers pass through hostels in Israel every year, footloose and fancy free. The below itinerary should take little more than ten days, but, despite being a small country, so full of things to see and do is Israel that it’s all too easy to get distracted along the way.
Kicking Off in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport is the first port of call for most travelers flying into Israel. And getting off the plane and checking into one of several excellent Tel Aviv hostels, it’s hard for the budget traveller not to feel a ripple of excitement at what they find.
Tel Aviv is an awesome city. Although the port area of Jaffa is one of the longest continuously inhabited spots in the world, it’s not, on the whole, an old city. Rather it has a lively atmosphere that’s all of its own.
With a to-die-for climate and miles of white sandy beaches to stretch out on, Tel Aviv has a habit of detaining people for longer than they’d planned. After dark the city really comes into its own with the Lilinblum district and on and around Rothschild St having vibrant nightlife scenes.
Aside from the beaches, the markets of Carmel and the flea market at Jaffa make for a unique experience. For the budget traveller, meanwhile, things just keep getting better: the city’s also a fantastic place to eat, and a delicious falafel or schwarma, bought from the countless food vendors, can come in at an extremely cheap price.
Tearing yourself away from Tel Aviv’s laidback, cosmopolitan atmosphere, the next stop on any Israel itinerary has to be Jerusalem. Ancient, mysterious and utterly compelling, its bustling markets and household name sights draw independent travellers to the many Jerusalem hostels in their droves.
The Old City, held in by its impressive walls (whose gates – the Jaffa Gate and the Damascus Gate, especially – are sights in their own right), is one of the most treasured of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
But the entire city is littered with unmissable monuments and almost impossibly rich museums. For all the majesty of the Western Wall and the Citadel, there are countless other lesser synagogues, mosques and churches that demand exploration.
After a few days exploring the wonders of Jerusalem, just a little to the south (and very doable in a day trip) lies Bethlehem, a vital pilgrimage site for non-Jewish and – as the birthplace of King David, and the site of Rachel’s Tomb – Jewish travellers alike.
Beyond Bethlehem, but still very visible from the town, are the remains of Herodion. An impenetrable looking fortress at the top of a large hill, it was the citadel of King Herod, and it makes as daunting a sight today as it must have done to would-be invaders!
A little to the east of Bethlehem is the Dead Sea, one of the more extraordinary natural phenomena to be found anywhere in the world. The lowest point on the earth’s surface, a dip in – or rather on top of! – it is another unmissable part of a trip to Israel.
Moving northwards, the next stop on this feverish dash around the country is Nazareth.
The largest Arab town in Israel, it has more than enough to detain the traveller or pilgrim.
But where its real attraction lies is in the surrounding countryside.
Away from its big cities, Israel’s a remarkable country of dramatic landscapes. And stretching away into the distance, the rugged landscape of the north is studded with some of the most ancient of manmade structures like Megiddo and Beth Shean.
Not far from Nazareth lies the beautiful Sea of Galilee, lined with two of many of the crusader castles that dot its hills and rocky outcrops: Belvoir and Nimrod. And it’s here, surrounded by jaw-droppingly beautiful ancient structures, that you find the real heart of Israel. Whether you’re here for a week or an entire lifetime, it’s impossible not to be bewitched by it.